Spanish Region of Catalonia: Using Debt to Get Rich

Residents of Catalonia will proudly claim that its region is the wealthiest of all regions in Spain and highlight the region's attractiveness for tourists, Barcelona's importance as shipping hub and the concentration of industrial activity around the Catalan capital.

plaza reial barcelona spain
Samuel Aranda | Getty Images
plaza reial barcelona spain

But while the beauty of Catalonia is worth boasting about, the region's finances are looking ugly.

Catalonia accounts for a fifth of Spain's overall output and tops the wealth of other autonomous regions, but its debt mountain also ranks first in the country.

The region's 2012 debt is estimated at more than 45 billion euros and it to refinance 5.7 billion euros in the second half of the year. Catalonia is running up to a 2.76 billion euro debt redemption at the end of November.

Shut out of capital markets and heavily reliant on Spain's Treasury credit lines, the regional government confirmed on Tuesday it is considering tapping the newly created 18 billion euro state liquidity fund to cover debt redemptions.

However, a spokesperson for the Catalan government said it will first study the terms attached to the funds before making an official request.

There is no free lunch. Any funds from the liquidity fund will only come with "tough fiscal and financial conditionality", as stated in a press release by the Catalan government.

While Catalonia may want to avoid any further interference of the central government, it may not have much of a choice but to ask for aid.

Catalonia is one of the worst offenders when it comes to the Spanish regions' fiscal slippagein 2011. It was asked to cut its deficit to 1.3 percent of GDP. At the end of the year it reported a number that was almost three times higher than that.

Forced by the central government to meet a 1.5 percent deficit target in 2012, Catalonia is suffering under the weight of budget cuts, sending the region even deeper into recession.

Moody's recently said that it believes the region's deficit target is unrealistic and will likely be overshot by 1 percent.

Public resentment towards tough targets and austerity measures imposed by Madrid is rising.

The Catalan politicians are furious that while Madrid was granted another concession on its deficit targets by Brussels, Madrid is not offering any leeway to the regions.

There was also a public outcry when the central government threatened to send official auditors to Catalonia if it didn't meet its fiscal deficit target.

The Catalan president Artur Mas raised the specter of new elections if that were to happen and called a potential intervention unconstitutional.

Under the new budget and stability law, the central government has the power to directly intervene in the finances of the autonomous regions.

The rebellion goes farther than this though. According to a recent poll conducted by the Centre d'Estudis d'Opinio, 51 percent of Catalans would be in favor of independence. It may not be a huge majority, but the percentage of votes in favor has risen by six points in the last four months.